Celebrate the heroism in us all

October 3, 2001

As we pull ourselves from the psychological depths of the terrorist attacks of last month, we are each perhaps haunted by some vivid scene or circumstance we saw on television or in print, or by an account of the horror besetting the victims of this

As we pull ourselves from the psychological depths of the terrorist attacks of last month, we are each perhaps haunted by some vivid scene or circumstance we saw on television or in print, or by an account of the horror besetting the victims of this tragedy. My mind keeps returning to United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. But I think of those involved as heroes, not victims.

The crew and passengers of this flight knew their fate, overcame the despair that must have come with that knowledge, and wrested control from their hijackers, saving countless others. I am amazed that their story has not been given the attention it deserves.

I can think of one other such case of undercelebrated heroism. It occurred when an Air Florida jet crashed into the 14th Street Bridge in Washington, DC, some 20 years ago. A passenger clinging to the jet, partly submerged in the Potomac River, helped others to safety until hypothermia and drowning claimed his life. The heroic acts of this man were later dismissed because his foot was caught in the fuselage. I just don’t agree.

In my book, heroism is overcoming fear. The heroes on either of these flights could have given in to despair. They could have been resigned to their fates. Instead they stood up to them.

When we face the fear of terrorism, we have performed an act of courage. Today the opportunity to do so appears limitless.

We are buffeted by stories in the media about how people in the U.S. do not feel safe, how life has changed forever, how it will never be the same. Fear is palpable. Many people are afraid to fly. Some are afraid to attend large gatherings for fear of terrorist attacks. In the medical community, which depends so much on communications and the free exchange of information, this can be devastating. In the months ahead, we may see the scars of these attacks. They may be most evident at the larger meetings-Medica, AHA, and RSNA.

Those of us who go on with our professional lives, who fly off-site and attend meetings, should take a moment to celebrate the simple fact that we are doing so. We should think about these routine acts and enjoy them for what they are, a celebration of the human spirit.